For a long time I've been suspicious about the desire to make interfaces "invisible" or "intuitive." Mainly I think that, when it comes to interacting with the world or with information at a level above randomly waving your arms and legs around, there's no such thing as an intuitive gesture that could be used by digital devices or wearables to trigger some action.
Timo Arnall makes an excellent point about invisibility:
Intentionally hiding the phenomena and materiality of interfaces, smoothing over the natural edges, seams and transitions that constitute all technical systems, entails a loss of understanding and agency for both designers and users of computing. Lack of understanding leads to uncertainty and folk-theories that hinder our ability to use technical systems, and clouds the critique of technological developments.
As systems increasingly record our personal activity and data, invisibility is exactly the wrong model…. [A]s both users and designers of interface technology, we are disenfranchised by the concepts of invisibility and disappearance.
The other issue I've tried to raise is that invisibility isn't a quality that's inherent in an object (unless that object actually IS invisible in a Harry Potter Invisibility Cloak kind of way). Instead, we should understand invisibility as a product of familiarity and skilled use. As John Pavlus puts it,
A pen is “intuitive” because you’ve used a zillion pens, pencils, crayons, markers, and stick-shaped inscriptor-tools in your life. A computer mouse is “intuitive” for the same reason (if you were born in or after my generation). If you grew up 500 years ago in an agrarian society, you might think a plow or a scythe was pretty damned intuitive.
A user interface on a digital divide should be invisible in the way a keyboard can be invisible to me. The keyboard is something I no longer have to think about because I've spend 40 years using it, not because the QWERTY keyboard is in some way "intuitive." (Indeed, the keyboard is so familiar I now spell with my hands.)
Or as Arnall argues, interfaces
may become normalised in use, effectively invisible over time, but that will only happen if we design them to be legible, readable, understandable and to foreground culture over technology. To build trust and confidence in an interface in the first place, enough that it can comfortably recede into the background.
This is what invisibility should be: not a design tactic that tries to obscure complexity or seal it behind aqua icons and backs that have no screws (hi, iPod!), but a strategy that understands that things become invisible when we use and trust them well enough to not have to think about them any more.